Why John Lennon Thought ‘World Without Love’ Wasn’t Right for The Beatles
Before John Lennon and Paul McCartney had a record deal or songwriting contract, they were like any other young musicians trying to make it. They would try out songs in all sorts of styles, and some later made it onto albums by The Beatles.
“Michelle,” which Paul workshopped for parties among John’s art-school set (circa ’58), found a spot on Rubber Soul (’65). Likewise, “When I’m Sixty-Four,” which Paul also wrote in the ’50s for someone like Frank Sinatra, ended up on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (’67).
But others didn’t make the leap from the early days to the Lennon-McCartney era (from ’62 on). “World Without Love” which became a huge hit for Peter and Gordon in ’64, was one such song. In that song’s case, John couldn’t listen to it without laughing.
Lennon laughed about the song’s opening line
If you’re familiar with “World Without Love,” you might be able to guess why the rock-and-rollin’ John didn’t see it as a fit for the Fab Four. “Please lock me away,” it begins. “And don’t allow the day here inside, where I hide in my loneliness.”
But John didn’t even get through the first verse. In fact, he couldn’t get past the opening line. “The funny first line always used to please John,” Paul later said. “Please lock me away. ‘Yes, OK [John would say]. End of song.'” But Paul thought it had potential.
He offered it to Billy Kramer, a recording artist who declined. Paul eventually found a big fan of the song right at home. Peter Asher, whose sister Jane Paul was dating, asked if he could record it with his new group. (Paul, then living with the Asher family, agreed.)
Though Peter Asher had to (in his words) “nag” Paul to write the bridge to go with the chorus and verses, Paul banged it out one night. And the upstart Peter and Gordon took the song to No. 1 on the U.S. and UK charts. In a piece of exquisite timing, “World Without Love” went out a few weeks after the Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan.
The Beatles had 6 songs hit No. 1 that year in America
With Beatlemania sweeping the U.S. in February ’64, Peter and Gordon found themselves with the right songwriting credit on their new song. (Whether John or Paul wrote the majority of a song, they always went out as “Lennon-McCartney” tracks.)
If you were managing The Beatles, you might inquire why John and Paul didn’t try to perfect the song and release it themselves. After all, no one could tire of hearing the two of them harmonize a lead vocal.
But manager Brian Epstein needn’t have worried about losing one hit song in 1964. After arriving in the U.S. with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on top of the Billboard charts, the Fab Four were only getting warmed up. By year’s end, they posted a record six No. 1 hit singles in America.
That list also included “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “She Loves You,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Love Me Do,” and “I Feel Fine.” So, at the end of the day, yes, The Beatles actually could afford to toss a hit aside. They had many more where that came from.